I wrote back in the spring (see “When I didn’t want to go to church anymore”) about the seven churches I’ve been a part of. What I didn’t write then is that to varying degrees I was wounded at those churches. (I’m sure I did some wounding myself, but I tend not to remember that.)
Looking back I realize now that I left each church with just a little more resentment towards my fellow saints. This continued to build until I could no longer ignore it. The problem for me, in contrast to most other injured Christians who could simply opt not to attend church (if even for a short time), is that my livelihood is wrapped up in church. I could no sooner forsake the church than walk off a jobsite and relinquish financial security. So I had to continue to clock in and take my bruises without any recompense from something like Workman’s Comp.
What else could I do? I’ve asked myself more than once in the past few years. But how could I enter into a different vocation when 14 years experience and a little education have resulted in a salary and benefits that have allowed me to provide well for my family? Not extravagant, certainly. But we’ve always had what we’ve needed. (Not to mention that from a young age I’ve sensed a calling to serve vocationally in the church, but that’s for another post.)
In all this, God has been infinitely patient towards me. He has not only continued to meet our physical needs but he also began the process of cleaning up my—I should say our, since this includes my family—emotional wounds, applying a healing touch as only the Great Physician could do. He has used key people in our current church family to facilitate this, as I’ve taken an axe to the bitter root—if you’d allow me to mix metaphors—that was overwhelming me.
A couple months ago in the quiet of the morning I listed a record of wrongs against me. It wasn’t an exhaustive list. Just some names of people who had disappointed me. Leaders I’d trusted. Just as I think God prompted me to create such a list, since it’s imperative to know who you need to forgive and why and to explore your own culpability, he also prompted me to create a list of all the ways I’ve been blessed through the Church, those individuals and families who represented Christ for us. I wrote down name after name, blessing after blessing. And I was humbled.
I was also given cause to consider how I myself had disappointed others. I’m still learning what spiritual leadership entails, and I’m certain I’ve left a trail of victims to this point.
Sometimes Hitting the Mark
I recently read Philip Yancey’s Church: Why Bother? in which he presents the ideal church, yet he realizes that no such church exists.
Yes, the church fails in its mission and makes serious blunders precisely because the church comprises human beings who will always fall short of the glory of God. That is the risk God took. Anyone who enters the church expecting perfection does not understand the nature of that risk or the nature of humanity. Just as every romantic eventually learns that marriage is the beginning, not the end, of the struggle to make love work, every Christian must learn that church is also a beginning. —Philip Yancey
I haven’t been a part of any ideal church, though I’ve seen God do some amazing things in and through local expressions of the worldwide Church. I, and the spiritual leaders I serve with, will continue to aim for the ideal and hit the mark occasionally only by God’s grace.
Yancey closes his book with the account of the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky when he was approached by the principal violinist who though he had tried and tried couldn’t pull off an extremely difficult, if not impossible, passage. Stravinsky replied, “I understand that. What I am after is the sound of someone trying to play it.” Perhaps something similar is what God had in mind with the church, Yancey says.